Breaking Down The WNBA Playoff Picture

With just one week left of the 2022 WNBA regular season, here’s an idea of who will, who won’t, and who could make the WNBA playoffs this year.

Don’t blink, because if you do, you might miss the end of the WNBA season.

That’s right. We’re just a little over a week away from the season ending. The battle for the final playoff spots are heating up and in this week’s Above The Break, we’re going to take stock of where every team in the league is at right now in the playoff

The teams that have clinched a playoff spot

Chicago Sky, Las Vegas Aces, Connecticut Sun, Seattle Storm, Washington Mystics

There are five WNBA teams that are over .500. Those also happen to be the five teams that have officially clinched playoff spots.

And there aren’t really any surprises in this group. If you told me before the season to predict the five teams that would win 20 games, it would be these teams. Chicago, Las Vegas, Connecticut and Seattle were the league’s clear top teams heading into this season, with the Mystics were in a position where a healthy Elena Delle Donne could push them into that conversation. Delle Donne was (mostly) healthy this season and the Mystics are 20-12 this season. I knew betting on them at 14-1 to win the title was a smart decision on my part.

The Sky are two games up in the loss column on Vegas and Connecticut, making it look like the Sky are going to end the season as the No. 1 seed.

The team that will not make the playoffs

Indiana Fever

The Fever have been eliminated from playoff contention for a little bit. Officially, at least. Unofficially, this team has been out of the race for months now.

Indiana has lost 15 games in a row. The team is 5-28 on the season. Its best player, Kelsey Mitchell, is done for the year.

There’s a lot of reason to think the Fever are on the right path. NaLyssa Smith has played great, and Queen Egbo has been a surprise. The rookie class wasn’t perfect, but it did help this team build from where they were last season. There’s a future here, which isn’t something you could really say recently. The Fever felt stuck in purgatory, but by bottoming out now, they finally can do the rebuilding that they should have been doing for years but never committed to because of bad drafts.

The Dallas Wings have virtually locked up the six seed

Dallas Wings

The Wings could have a really bad week and see their two-game lead for the sixth seed vanish, but it seems pretty clear at this point that we aren’t suddenly going to get all the other teams in the playoff picture win out and threaten the Wings.

Dallas has really persevered this year. With Satou Sabally sidelined for most of this season, you might think the Wings would have folded. But the team has slowly figured things out. Teaira McCowan is finally getting starters minutes and is delivering double-doubles at an absurd rate. She had 21 points and 16 boards against the Aces on Thursday night as the team survived another game without Arike Ogunbowale. This Wings team has worked because so many of the individual pieces know how to play as a team. Allisha Gray and Kayla Thornton are the kind of glue players that every team needs. Veronica Burton is adding her name to the long list of impact rookies this year. The rotation is finally starting to make some kind of sense instead of being all over the place every night. So, congrats to the Wings on the six seed, unless things get weird. Really weird.

The battle for seven and eight

New York Liberty, Atlanta Dream, Phoenix Mercury, Los Angeles Sparks, Minnesota Lynx

And here’s where the drama lies.

Let’s start at the bottom with the Lynx. While the other teams are all within a game of each other in the loss column, Minnesota is two back of the eight seed. It looks like Minnesota’s poor start is going to doom the team to a missed playoff appearance. I hope to write more about what’s next for Minnesota, but make sure you watch this team’s games down the stretch, as it looks likely that Sylvia Fowles’ career will end in the regular season and not the postseason.

That leaves four teams fighting for the other two playoff spots.

The Liberty sit seventh right now. They don’t face any of the teams that are over .500 for the rest of the season and they’ve won three in a row, though they do have two games against the Wings left. Sabrina Ionescu has finally become the player that people expected Ionescu to be. Han Xu offers some really intriguing things off the bench for this team. There are definitely still issues with consistency, but New York overcoming a 24-8 first quarter deficit to beat the Sparks on Wednesday was the kind of thing that this team wouldn’t have done early in the season. That they’re doing it now is a sign that this team might finally be figuring out how to win the ugly games.

Atlanta is the eight seed right now. The Dream have dealt with so many injury issues this season. In their last game against the Fever for example, the team needed 23 minutes from Maya Caldwell and 15 from Kia Vaughn. Naz Hillmon is playing 30-plus minutes per game, which definitely wasn’t something that the team planned to do this season, right? But with Rhyne Howard’s scoring, Atlanta keeps finding ways to win games. They still have to play Vegas plus two games against the Liberty, so getting by the Sparks and Lynx in the next two games is crucial.

As for the two teams that sit outside the playoff picture at the time I’m writing this, we have the Mercury at 13-19 and the Sparks at 12-19. Los Angeles looked destined to make the playoffs, but a five-game losing streak is sinking this team. I initially thought that moving on from Liz Cambage would be addition by subtraction, but then last week I dug into some numbers and started feeling a lot less sure about that. And it looks like I was right to feel uneasy about this team! Cambage had her limitations, but she could score easy points in the paint and could deter drives on the other end. With her gone, the Sparks look lost. With the Mystics plus two games against the Sun still left, Los Angeles is likely to be sitting at home when the playoffs begin.

That brings us to the Mercury. This has been a tough season. A beyond tough season. Phoenix’s best player, Brittney Griner, has been wrongfully imprisoned in Russia all season and the Mercury have tried to do what they could without Griner.

And it was working some, but then Tina Charles asked out and the Mercury were forced to play extremely small with Shey Peddy and Sophie Cunningham both in the starting lineup. And while those players brought some good things offensively at first, the lack of depth and the heavy minutes from the starters has taken its toll. The team has now failed to score 70 points in three consecutive games and while it seems a lot of teams have five games left, Phoenix only has four remaining, including a season-ending game against Chicago. Diamond DeShields is back, but now Diana Taurasi is hurt, though she could be back next game.

Overall, the WNBA playoff picture is murky, but it’s getting more clear. New York and Atlanta should get the seven and eight seeds based on how teams are playing. But this is the W: something weird can always happen to change the picture completely.

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